Stanford faces future with roses at their feet

953787.jpg

Stanford faces future with roses at their feet

David Shaw will wake up Saturday morning. He will see roses in vases scattered about his kitchen. He will stroll through his house the conquering hero, awash in adulation and safe from the mundane cares of family life.

David Shaw will think how best to position himself and the snack table for the Big 10 championship game Saturday evening.

What I will do is put up the Christmas tree, he said with a wry smile.

He knows his Christmas will be spent in a hotel in Southern California preparing for either Nebraska or Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, so pre-holiday chores are not his to avoid. Not every day is a parade, and Saturday belongs to Kori Shaw and the kids. The Christmas tree? Hell be lucky if he isnt on the roof stringing lights, too.

He loses his Saturday because his Friday Stanfords Friday was so rewarding. In beating UCLA, 27-24, in the Pacific 12 Conference championship, the Cardinal cleared the electrified wire they could not in 2010 or 2011. They lost to Oregon twice, perceived both times to be the inferior team, so they were intent on not being the inferior team thrice.

And though UCLA came close (the Bruins got ginormous games from running back Johnathan Franklin and quarterback Brett Hundley, which they hadnt a week ago, and they even held a touchdown lead with 11 minutes to play), the Cardinal dealt swift, sure blows to make yet another close game their own.

They won the way they won the other 10 times the way an anaconda eats. Slowly, methodically, but comprehensively. They never dominated the Bruins as they had the week before, but they controlled them when it mattered so they could strike when it really mattered.

I had told them this morning that they had played every kind of game this year, Shaw said in the dark of the landing area outside his team's locker room. We won big, we won small, we won ahead late, we won behind late. I told them there wasnt anything we hadnt seen, and anything we hadnt done. So nothing was going to surprise us.

So, down 24-17, they commenced to eat. First, on a grinders march of 63 yards in which quarterback Kevin Hogan converted three third downs, including a third-and-15 from the UCLA 26 by finding Drew Terrell open and carefree on a fade in the right corner of the end zone.

We ran four verticals and Zach (Ertz) on a shallow route, Shaw said, and when the play started I was saying to myself, Hit the shallow, hit the shallow, hit the shallow. And then I saw the safety (Andrew Abbott) go with Zach and I started to open my mouth to say, Hit the fade, but Kevin already saw it.

The score, with 11:21 left, allowed Stanford to play a slightly less aggressive defensive posture. He could play for a winning field goal, which required less in the way of field position, and Jordan Williamsons foot would not have to be challenged as UCLAs Kaimi Fairbairns would at games end.

If he hadnt gotten Drew, we were going to kick the field goal there, so it really was the safe play, Shaw explained with that gentle professors tone he is mastering.

But the defense was sufficiently inspired to shut down the Bruins for the night. They were buried deep with the ensuing kickoff and holding penalty, and Stanford got the field position it needed for Williamsons 36-yarder with 6:49.

With UCLAs next life, it got three quick first downs then stopped dead again. And one exchange later, the Bruins got to the Stanford 34 before stalling. Fairbairns 52-yard attempt from inside the left hash fell maybe two yards short.

The Bruins were close enough to believe, but as Shaw said, the Cardinal had been here before. They played an unspectacular but methodical game, never letting the Bruins get enough ahead to think it had Stanford cornered, and Stanford with room to maneuver is Stanford standing on your sternum while you writhe and think of the good old days when you could breathe.

So now, Rose Bowl invitees for the first time in 13 years, beyond the one hurdle that had hooked their laces the previous two seasons, the Cardinal face a future this school has not known since 1972. A future with roses in their teeth, and perhaps if they show what they have done so many times this year, at their feet.

And David Shaw? Hell be the one on the step ladder trying to make the angel that sits at the top of the tree not lean over like a drunken pinecone. Hey, youve got your day of well-earned rest, and hes got his.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

O.J. Simpson is free. The system as it is defined by those who run it in the case of the Nevada Parole Board, worked.

But the issue that lingers is whether we can free ourselves of him. That system is far more amorphous, arbitrarty and essentially unfair. And in its own revolting way, it works too.

The O.J. market has always been bullish. The old cliché that people can’t get enough no matter how much you shovel at them is more true for him than for any other sports figure of the last 50 years. More than Tiger Woods. More than LeBron James. More than Michael Jordan. More than all of them.

And now his parole hearing, televised and streamed by every outlet except Home & Garden Television, proved it again. He will never not be O.J.

But he is also 70. He is also planning to go to Florida and be with his family, based on what he told the parole board Thursday. He has assiduously avoided the media in his nine years in Lovelock, and if his family is providing the support it pledges, it will do its utmost to keep him from our prying eyes as he enters his dotage.

There is nothing we have that can do him any good. We have eaten all the forms of O.J. there are, culminating in the Emmy-award winning documentary on him, and finally, his release from prison. If he is wise as well as smart, here’s nothing left of his life but re-airs.

So the question becomes not so much whether he can leave fame alone, or whether fame can leave him alone. Our national appetite is poor on the topic of leaving people be, let alone deciding enough is enough. The fame we make for people gorges, purges and gorges again, in a hideous cycle that demeans all involved.

In sum, O.J. Simpson can, if he is paying attention to the value of normalcy, end his addiction to fame. I have far more serious doubts about fame and its addiction to him.

Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

mayweather-mcgregor-ball-weird.jpg

Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

Some time not that very long ago, someone in sports management who will almost certainly spend all of eternity bobbing for razor-studded apples in a pool of lava saw an opportunity in the phrase, “The quietest time in sports.” And decided to fill it with filth.
 
It is believed to begin right after the end of the NBA Finals, although that artificial start date has been extended through free agency now that the NBA’s principal entertainment vehicle is the burning of money. It used to be right after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, though now it has been extended backward. And it ends roughly at the beginning of NFL and/or college training camps, depending on where you live and which of those two beasts you profess your God to be.
 
But let’s get back to the management succubus who has set us on the path that has led inexcusably to the current point. The idea that baseball no longer holds the interest or attention spans of the young, cool and inadequately trained in the value of money is now accepted as fact, and as any marketing nitwit will tell you, nature abhors a vacuum.
 
So here’s what we’ve got. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in what is very simply a lazy-stereotype-laden comedy tour that isn’t funny let alone even mildly convincing. They have both been on the stage too long, with a month still to go before the final shame-off August 26, where they simply enter the arena, stand with their backs to each other at the ring rope and spend 45 minutes trying to target-spit into the eyes of the high-rollers. Why the promoters didn’t just muzzle Mayweather and McGregor and use actual professionals like Key and Peele and Aisling Bea and Ed Byrne to work the crowds for a million per is simply a lack of imagination at work.
 
Here’s what else we have. Our idiotic fascination for Lonzo Ball’s two best Summer League games being achieved wearing shoes other than those promoted by his father/huckster as though his skills and intelligence are all in his feet.
 
What this actually is, of course, is people using Lonzo’s momentary and mostly microscopic achievement to call LaVar a tedious swine without ever using his name or his product catalog because he, like McGregor and Mayweather, beats down crowds and calls it entertainment, and people have signed on in a weird backdoor way – by finding reasons to like the son as a weapon against the father.
 
Thus, Lonzo Ball gets to learn how to be a professional athlete of note while carrying the load of his father’s impression upon the nation as well as the loads of those who believe that sins of the father must revert to the son. Popularity’s dominant property is its corrosion, and Ball will have to have very fast feet and well-constructed shoes indeed to dance away from the rising tide of a bored fan base with an ax to grind.
 
It isn’t as instantly gratifying a train wreck as Mayweather-McGregor, but it is a triumph of the new marketing strategy of wholesale idiocy that diminishes the watcher as well as the watched.
 
Neither of these events are in and of themselves interesting. Mayweather-McGregor is simply a kangaroo boxing a bear because circus entertainment no longer has circuses as venues, and Ball’s summer bears almost no relationship to the true test of his career – how to be the best player on a terrible team and then make the adjustment to being the third best player on a rebuilding team.
 
Ball has a longer shelf life because of that single useful component, but it is made less rather than more interesting by the presence of his father, who is now indelibly part of the tale at a time when most parents leave their children to find their fortunes by the virtues of their skills and wits.
 
McGregor-Mayweather has the sole benefit of being cringeworthy both before, during and after the event, a month-long smear of degradation that reduces all involved, including those who buy the fight, into penitents, into rolling apologies. It is an event in which nobody gets out with any shred of dignity, with the single revolting example of the grisly accountant-beasts who will take the Internal Revenue’s cut immediately after the fight.
 
And if that isn’t Satan winning, then you don’t know how to score a game in which Satan plays on all the teams at once and sees to it that the game is scheduled in the middle of July because some client of his told him it was the best time of year for personal and professional disgrace with a scoreboard on the end of it.